Saturday, April 30, 2005

Back in town

Okay folks, I'm back in town after a week in Brittany: sailing, walking, etc. (weather permitting) and otherwise resting. That did a lot of good.

On the way back we stopped in Dol-de-Bretagne, a few miles from the Mont Saint-Michel but on the Brittany side of the Brittany-Normandy line. There's a cathedral there, which is a bit unusual for a town of 5,000 inhabitants - a rather interesting building, dating back from the XIIIth century but completely different from the major gothic cathedrals of Northern France. There's a picture of its nave on my French-speaking weblog; you'll see what I mean.

A stained glass window in the Saint-Samson cathedral of Dol-de-Bretagne.

Anyway, I'm back in paris, which means I'm back on DSL internet access. In other words, I'll be able to blog a lot more!

Friday, April 22, 2005

Back to the heart of darkness

In my first post here I stated that I was going to write about books. I realize this has not happened yet: let's get to it.

It has become topical in the "learned" press to start any paper on a classical author or book by "Il faut relire So-and-So" ("one should read So-and-so again"). And of course, more often than not, you've never read the author in question, which makes the sentence a tad bit humiliating.

Still: One should re-read Conrad. And especially Heart of Darkness. Actually, I think I'm going to make it a policy to read it at least once a year - encouraged thus by the modest size of the novel. The fact is, each time I read it, I find new levels of interpretations I had previously overlooked.

The first level is of course its vivid description of one specific instance of colonialism in Africa: the so-called "Congo Free State", which became the Belgian Congo in 1910. The "Free State" was set up in the late 19th century to "protect" the Congo basin from the scramble of European nations for Africa, under the authority of what we'd call now an NGO. It actually was, from the start (Henry Morton Stanley, the foremost promoter of the scheme, was known to have a strong appetite for easy proffit), a major scale looting scheme, under the personnal authority of King Leopold of Belgium. The scheme turned out to be less profitable that it was supposed to be: it was mostly based on the export of ivory, purchased or plundered from the Interior tribes' stockpiles. Those stockpiles dried out at the time when the financial pressure from the railway works (a necessity to take the products out of the country efficiently) peaked, leading to the bankruptcy of the "Free State" and of the King, who then passed out its possession to a reluctant Belgian government.

Those two themes (the railway works and the plunder of ivory) are prominent in Heart of Darkness. This by itself makes the book a valuable tool for the historian of Africa. It is even a bit unsettling to read the description of two major problems of the "Free State" (the depopulation along the portage routes and the massive death from malnutrition and disease amongst displaced workers building the railway), knowing that the exact same events occured on the other side of the river, in the French Congo, years after the publication of Conrad's book...

Another historical reading would be made by historians of ideas: they'd note the cedrtainties of Marlow about English colonization ("where real work is done"), as opposed to French. They'd also note the cohabitation, in the character of Kurtz, of a high-spirited "white man's burden" type of discourse with violence and plundering.

But Heart of Darkness is of course not an documentary novel - even though it is a well documented novel. The closing sentence, echoing Marlow's opening, makes it clear that the heart of darkness is no more on the banks of the Congo River than on those of the Thames. And, as always with Conrad, the boundary between characters often blurs: "he was a voice", says Marlow of Kurtz, as he himself is speaking in the dark to a silent audience.

I could go on for days, eventually exceding the book's length. Which would be pretty pointless, I guess. So I'll just renew my advice: read it if you haven't already read it; read it again if you have.

Sunday, April 17, 2005


Slowly recovering from what turned out to be some sort of bronchitis - hence my protracted silence here. But I'm alright now, thanks.

Let's take on the occasion and honor this mind-bogging little winter of April with an adequate picture:

One nimble young iceberg drifting out of the Ilulissat icefjord, Greenalnd, summer '93.

This picture was taken during a crazy cruise along the west coast of Greenland on a 28 feet, plywood-hulled sailing boat. Saw an add in a sailing magazine, called up and, three month later, overloaded with bags and boots and stuff, I was walking down from the Ilulissat airport to the harbor, where the boat and her owner were waiting for the new crew - I was the crew.

An amazing cruise, really. That is, until the point when we struck a "growler" during a patch of rough weather and very nearly sunk.

On another note, this cruise gave me the opportunity to set up my first web page, in October of the same year, as a mean of sharing my pictures with friends around the country. How's that? I started web-designing twelve years ago and managed not to earn a cent with that skill.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

This blog not dead

... but I'm slowing down my production while I'm battling with the mother and father of all colds. Nothing serious, only a major inconvenience.

Not much to do but sleeping it off. Which is what I'm going to do presently.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005


Today and the days before where marked by the death of two major figures the 20th century: Saul Bellow, writer, who died at 89, and Robert Creeley, poet, who died last week at 78.

Senescit Mundus.

Dead at 28.000 feet.
Tomb of two XIXth century balloon pilots
Paris, Père Lachaise Cemetary, March 19th, 2005.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Springtime, and even Suburbia can look pretty

A picture taken during my first notable bike excursion of the season, 40 miles on the bank of a canal and through the north-eastern suburbs of Paris:

The Canal de l'Ourcq in Aulnay-sous-Bois, last Sunday, around Noon.

One mile North from this point, huge housing projects, ugly malls and factories being dismembered. Real life always lurks.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Crow in a blossoming cherry tree (a color picture)

[this post is an adaptation of the latest entry on my French-sapeaking blog.]

Springtime in Paris' Jardin des Plantes. Under the dwarf cherry tree - overloaded with its own white flowers - a crow is hopping from branch to branch.

Having a hard time finding the way out maybe. Unless it's just happy to be there.

Jardin des Plantes, Paris, last friday afternoon.

A minuscule occurence. The number of people stopping there to look at the cherry blossoms doesn't have much meaning either. But it does feel good nonetheless.

Le Plume wishes you a good day.

Yet another weblog?

This is a self answering question if I ever saw any. Let me ellaborate a little on this anyway.

  • First, I already maintain a weblog, with daily entries including pictures. It is witten in French (which is pretty natural since I happen to be a Frenchman living in France), and you can access it using the link on the sidebar. The home page I mention there is mostly an index to the photographs published in said weblog, by the way.
  • Why this blog then? Mostly because I wanted to have an English-speaking publishing space, since for various reasons I do have an interest in both cultures. And there's also the small fact that the blogging platform I've been using so far seems to be plagued with technical and managerial problems...
  • What will it be about? Probably mostly about books, and about places, and presumably many other things.
    • Books: I read mostly in English those days, from crime novels to poetry, which makes it a bit pointless to comment about my recent reads in a French-speaking blog.
    • Places: because I believe in going there and seeing what it's like. And there's "here" too: it's easy to forget how interesting the city where one lives can be interesting and surprising - even more so if you happen to live in Paris, I guess.

I'll try to keep my contributions here rather frequent - more or less daily.

So... please sit back, relax and enjoy!